Apple Music hooks 6.5 million subscribers: Should Spotify worry?

Initial reviews may not always be glowing, but music experts say wait and see.

Jeff Chiu/AP/File
Apple CEO Tim Cook (r.) hugs Beats by Dre co-founder and Apple employee Jimmy Iovine at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, June 8.

After Apple Music launched on June 30, the service’s 15 million users had three months to give it a go. Could Apple’s famously loyal customers be wooed from its music-streaming competitors, especially Spotify?

The start of October marked decision day for Apple Music’s first testers, who had to commit to $9.99 per month (or $14.99 for families) to continue streaming its 30 million songs whenever, wherever. (Including Taylor Swift, a major win: the songstress made headlines with a 2014 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal which declared “the future of music is a love story,” and love doesn’t come cheap; she was withdrawing her albums from Spotify’s free service.) 

Apple's chief executive officer Tim Cook indicated that the company’s big gamble is poised to pay off: speaking at WSJDLive yesterday, the Wall Street Journal’s global technology conference, he said that some 60 percent of trial users proved willing to pay. Apple Music now boasts 15 million users in total, 6.5 paying subscribers and another 8.5 who are still enjoying the free trial.

So should Spotify worry?

At first glance, the Swedish musical gurus look safe. Only seven years old, it’s already earned 75 million users, of whom 20 million are paying subscribers. Although they’ve lost Miss Swift to Apple, the rest of the library is virtually the same, as is the price.

And early reviews may have let Spotify breathe a tad easier.

“While Apple Music may be taking the secret of on-demand streaming to the masses, the app itself isn’t ready for them,” the Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern concluded.

Bloomberg Business’ headline was even less forgiving: “Apple Music Is a Hot Mess With a Few Bright Spots.” 

Several reviewers complained about the service’s “Russian nesting doll”-like menus, as Ms. Stern called them, finding it ironic that a company who revolutionized hand-held design was having trouble at this stage of the game.

But revolutions rarely happen overnight, and most observers were hesitant to place bets that Spotify could hold off its California rival.

Sure, other streaming services like Google Play Music or 8tracks will link to iTunes, but browsing, buying, and streaming are all the simpler if you’re already in an Apple product. The new iPhone 6 and 6s sold a record-breaking 13 million models in its opening weekend alone, in what Wired Magazine called “an autumn tradition for Apple.” 

And despite its lack of social sharing options – something Spotify has mastered – perks like offline downloads, easy syncing, ordering Siri to play you your favorite song (or introduce you to something new), and, need we mention again, Taylor Swift will likely help Apple catch up, despite being "late to the game."

The groundbreaking company that turned Napster from household name into “do-you-remember,” in the words of Bloomberg’s Stephen Pulvirent, seems determined to retake the digital music world that they more or less invented.

Although CD sales and even online downloads are way down, 41 million people now pay for streaming, and even personally skeptical reviewers like Stern believe it’s inevitable that Apple Music will make a good-sized splash.

Meanwhile, all the commotion has left some music lovers missing the good old days of actually owning, loving, and listening to music whenever they pleased, without sorting through endless ‘customized’ playlists.

“I used to listen to my Aretha [Franklin] albums a lot, but only when I was in a particular mood. Now, she doesn’t surface in my Spotify profile. The algorithms don’t know I have a relationship with her,” Geoffrey A. Fowler mused. 

Are you listening, Apple?

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